A lot of hooplah and to-do has been made about how bad the Kansas City Chiefs receiving corps is. Many have said time and time again that the single biggest position of need for the Chiefs in either free agency or the draft is a wide receiver. In fact, Adam Teicher at ESPN did a whole piece on how the Chiefs main concern this off season is their offense — and more specifically — the receiving corps.
"On offense, they have one elite player [running back Jamaal Charles], one listed as high quality (and that’s a fullback, Anthony Sherman), one listed as solid, four listed as adequate, three as below average and two as unknown. Only three players listed in the top categories.So the Chiefs have a significant talent imbalance here. It’s possible the defensive problems they had late last season had more to do with coaching or other issues than a lack of talent."
But are the receivers really as bad as everyone says they are?
Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith threw for 3,313 yards last season and backup Chase Daniel added another 248 in his limited action during the season. That’s 3,561 yards of passing offense for the Chiefs last year. The rest of the team fell in line behind him. I broke down the team’s top-five receivers based on total receiving yards.
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As you can see, the team was led in both receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by star running back Jamaal Charles. Granted, that had a lot to do with the way head coach Andy Reid’s offense is designed and Alex Smith’s comfort level at the beginning of the season, but it’s still a little out of whack.
One of the key stats here is that there wasn’t a receiver on the team with over
Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) escapes the grasp of Indianapolis Colts strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Indianapolis won the game 23-7. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
800 yards in receiving. Actually, there wasn’t a receiver with over 700 yards of receiving. Does that mean they were bad? Let’s look at a more pass heavy team to compare.
The New Orleans Saints were the second best team through the air this past season. Led by high flying quarterback Drew Brees, the black and gold from the Big Easy put up 5,162 yards in passing production during the 2013 campaign. Here’s how the top five receivers from the Saints fell in terms of total receiving yardage.
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Looking at these numbers, you can really see the disparity in having a prolific high-flying offense, versus more of a short pass, west coast offense like the Chiefs employ. But that doesn’t answer the real questions which is are the Chiefs receivers to blame for the lack of production.
Many have said that part of the reason all of the Chiefs looked mediocre this season is because Reid’s style of offense doesn’t key on receiver but instead spreads the ball around. It would seem that quarterback Alex Smith buys into that philosophy as well. Reid seemed to cement that line of thinking during his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
"I thought they did a good job. You know Dwayne (Bowe) had his best game the last game. So what we take a lot of pride in doing is spreading the ball around to all of the different people that we have, and we don’t really focus in on, necessarily, one person in the throwing game. As a result, that makes defenses have to cover everybody, right? I’m OK with both of those spots, so that’s where I’m at with that.”"
So let’s a play a little game of make believe and see if the philosophy of “moving the ball around” is really the cause for the lower-than-desired receiver production from the Chiefs this year. The following table shows what the Chiefs receivers would look like if they were playing in much more pass heavy offense, like the Saints, this past season.
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November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Donnie Avery (17) lines up during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
That makes quite the difference. Even if the Chiefs were a more pass heavy team, instead of relying on the west coast offense, they still wouldn’t have had a 1000-yard receiver, though they would have had a couple who came close. But that doesn’t quite close the loop. What if the reverse were true of the Saints receivers and they played on a team that was more conservative in their offensive approach?
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Those number are a lot more humbling than what they previously were and I guarantee you Jimmy Graham would have no luck getting wide receiver money if that was his production.
So, what am I saying and what can the Chiefs expect next year?
What I’m not saying is that I’m satisfied with the Chiefs offensive production this year. What I’m not saying is that the receiving corps should begin the 2014 season without something of a shakeup. What I’m not saying is that Alex Smith and Drew Brees are the same. I’m not even saying that these players would play the same, given the scenario we laid out. What I’m saying is to say that the receiving corps is horrible because nobody had a 1000-yard season is silly without taking in the whole picture.
Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster (22) warms up before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
What if the Chiefs offense including Alex Smith and this receiving corps play the 2014 season like they did the last half of the 2013 year, including the playoff loss against the Indianapolis Colts? What if they put out that kind of production for an entire season? I did the math for you.
Take a look:
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As you can see under this projection, no receiver would go over 1000-yards, but the production would increase dramatically.
At the end of the day, the receivers are only as good as the offense they’re playing in. While the Chiefs would definitely benefit from picking a play-making stud rookie or a speedy free agent, I think the most benefit will come from the fact that this year will be the second consecutive year in the same offensive system under the same coaching staff with the same quarterback. Consistency, more than anything else, will bring victory in Kansas City.